Tiny scraps of paper were scattered about the floor of my small study at home. My first inclination was to pick up the little pieces and toss the debris in the trash. Well, actually, my very first thought was to ignore the litter and pretend I didn’t see the mess and leave it for another, more convenient time. I thought better of the first thought, so I stooped down and starting picking up the little tatters of paper. This small mess was created by our “little girl,” Annie – a bullboxer puppy we adopted from a rescue shelter this summer. Picking up the pieces I noticed that it was a photograph she nibbled away from the bookshelf. I am sure she thought, “That guy in the picture looks nice…I think I will bite his face and maybe digest a few parts.”
The picture was from a 1992 whitewater trip I led with a group from the church I served as pastor. I was 26 when the photo was taken, and my oldest child (not pictured) was only a few months old. There I was in the snapshot (or what was now left of me): young and confident; hopeful and expectant. Twenty-four years later I can say that I still like a good paddle down a river, but I am not so young and that little boy of mind is now nearly as old as I was in the photo.
I am a bit sad that there is not much left of the picture. What Annie left me is more like a cheap puzzle missing several pieces. Still, even what was left among the fragments brought back sweet memories of a life I lived with a people I served in the mountains I love.
Even the best pictures we have are never whole; never complete; and can in no way tell the whole story. For that matter, the same could be said of our memories. They too are never whole, complete, nor tell the whole story. All we are left with are our fragments.
Through the years these fragments weave in and out and make a life. Or, put another way, a life is made out of all our fragments – good and tragic; joys and sadness; struggles and triumphs. No life is a whole life until we have lived all of our life.
I look back with gratitude even over the parts I would rather forget or never have lived. I am grateful that no one fragment defines me; it only is a part of me. I am much bigger than the sum of my fragments.
So are you.
As these last days of 2016 come to a close and we look at the pile of fragments of a year, may we look ahead at the outstretched river we are navigating through with gratitude for where we have been and hope for where we are going. The picture is not yet complete.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage. (Psalm 16:6)